It’s been nearly 40 years since Sam Raimi directed Within the Woods, the $1,600 horror short that would become The Evil Dead. Decades later, Raimi has returned to the series that kickstarted and defined his career, directing the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead. (In a fascinating coincidence, both Within the Woods and Ash vs Evil Dead are half an hour.)
Raimi couldn’t take the reins of the show by himself, which is why he tapped Craig DiGregorio to serve as the series’ show runner. DiGregorio’s credits as a writer and producer include Da Ali G Show, Chuck, and Workaholics. Seeing them together, their sensibilities and personalities seem to gel, which makes me wonder what the writers’ room meetings are like.
Raimi and DiGregorio sat at the table and talked about bringing Evil Dead to the small screen, the practicality of shooting in New Zealand rather than the States, and the type of hell they’re willing to inflict upon Bruce Campbell whenever the show comes to an end.
What’s the motivating factor for returning to territory that’s so early in your career, Sam? [gesturing to DiGregorio] And why did you drag this guy along?
Craig DiGregorio: [to Sam Raimi] Why’d you drag me into this? [laughs]
Sam Raimi: [gesturing to DiGregorio] This guy! Craig was the best man for the job, and he still continues to be, and he’s learned the main voice of the character. He’s a good leader for the writers, it turns out.
I mean, the time you hire a showrunner you don’t know if they are the best man for the job, but he turned out to be. You’ve got to have so many skills of leadership for the team, recognition of all these egos of the writers and dealing with them, good communication skills with the studio and production that’s happening elsewhere, and being able to juggle the budgets and the timecrunch that’s coming down on you. And then having to take the script and re-write it overnight. Too many talents and skills to ask for in one person, and that’s why we settled with [Craig].
Craig DiGregorio: I haven’t thought of those. [laughs]
Sam Raimi: [laughs]
As far as the first question, Sam, what made you return to this character from very early in your career?
Sam Raimi: Five words: The fans… [long pause]
Sam Raimi: The fans… [long pause, counts on his fingers] The.
Sam Raimi: So, umm, they’ve been demanding this. I didn’t want to return to it for many years. I wanted to go on and make Spider-Man movies, other characters, other stories, and I’ve already made three of them. I love Bruce, but I just didn’t know if there was more to do. But they really wanted it, and so we listened to them. It’s never happened to me before like that. I think that’s— I just didn’t know we made movies based on the audience’s desire to see them. It’s very rare for me. Like nobody asked me to make another Spider-Man picture, nobody asked me to make another Darkman picture, or a Simple Plan sequel, or whatever I did. Just this one. So it was really me finally listening to them, and that’s it. That’s the only motivation.
Did the series break down from an Evil Dead 4 movie that you had in the works?
Sam Raimi: Yes. For many years my brother Ivan and I were writing an Evil Dead 4 movie. Different versions of it, some great ideas. And we just realized that no one would really want to distribute an Evil Dead 4 movie. It would be really big and it’d another fake-spectacular, but it would be too expensive. It would never really make much money. Then Rob [Tapert] said, “Oh, the economics might work out for TV.” And that’s how it started.
How does the mindset change going from a film to a television show? Are you freed up? Do you feel like there aren’t any restrictions for you?
Sam Raimi: There’s no restrictions from Starz. They really want us to make something as wild and crazy as we’d like. They want the flavor of whatever Evil Dead was brought to the small screen in a big way. They’ve only been really supportive and we don’t really have restrictions. There are the budget and time constrictions of TV. I can’t set up those— I only directed the pilot, but as a team, we can’t take the time to set up all these really cool camera shots to suggest the supernatural in abstract or artistic ways.
Craig DiGregorio: You have to pick your spots.
Sam Raimi: Yeah, you have to pick your spots to direct. And instead we focused on the character of Ash, which I think the audience really likes anyways.
What was the decision to shoot in New Zealand versus shooting in the States?
Sam Raimi: [to DiGregorio] What do you think?
Craig DiGregorio: There are a couple of things. I mean, I think your money goes a really long way there, so you can really get a big show for whatever your budget is. Also, the crew we have down there is amazing, and they can turnover horror and action and give us more of those cool camera shots just in the time that we have. And also Sam’s longtime producing partner, Rob Tapert, lives down there and has an infrastructure built-in already, and he’s very comfortable getting the scripts and feeding it into his machine. I think that’s also part of it.
So, you know, practical, financial, and also creative.
Building on that, how beneficial was it to have that great core of makeup effects artists already there for you? And what was it like working with them to create this sort of world?
Sam Raimi: It was great having a team of makeup effects artists that have worked with Rob and have proven to be able to deliver on a TV schedule. The demands that it encompasses—they survived it and excelled. So Rob already had a great relationship with this team and it made things wonderful. Wonderful. There were already 30 people on employ when we began, from another project. It was great. They were up and running.
Is this a show that’s going to be accessible if you’ve never seen the properties before? People who’ve never seen the movies, can they come in and know what’s going on?
Craig DiGregorio: I mean, I’ve never seen the movies and I like it.
Sam Raimi: It continues for the Evil Dead fans. And we hope that they’ll be good with it. We really pray that they really will, it’s made for them. But we’ve also taken steps to introduce new audience members to characters in the pilot.
Craig DiGregorio: I’ve talked to people who’ve seen the first episode—fans versus people who’ve never seen Evil Dead before—and I think it’s equally liked, because it’s such a fun, weird universe to put yourself into, and I think people just like that. It’s different from a lot of things on television. So I think even new viewers who haven’t seen the movies enjoy being put in an interesting place. We’re helping catch people up or let them know what the world is at the same time.
And I have seen the movies.
[laughs] In terms of doing a series as opposed to doing a film. In films, you could basically kill off a lot of lead characters that people have really started to really get a rapport with, whereas if you do that with a series it creates a problem that you’re replenishing your cast every couple of weeks.
Sam Raimi: Well, I think that’s absolutely right, and we feel that we’ve got to kill some characters so the threat of the Evil Dead is real. There’s going to have to be some suffering and missing of characters in this equation.
Craig DiGregorio: Yeah, so I don’t think it’s a complete replenishment, but for the danger to be real, you have to let [some characters be killed]. Especially people close to Ash always end up dying.
Sam Raimi: Yeah. It’s harder in TV, I agree.
What was Bruce’s reaction when you came to him and said, “Hey, guess what? We’re going to have you play the same action character you played 30 years ago?”
Sam Raimi: Well, it wasn’t really a surprise. People would always ask Bruce about it. “When are you coming back [to the Evil Dead franchise].” And he’d say, “I don’t know when I’m coming back. Sam keep dragging out his Spider-Man movies and…” So it’s always been in the air. And I would tell Bruce and Rob that I’m writing with my brother. And ummm still writing with my brother.
And then at some convention for Spider-Man a fan said, “When are you doing another Evil Dead movie?” I said, “Okay, I’m writing it this summer with my brother.” [editor’s note: it was actually an Oz the Great and Powerful press conference. You can read our old report about it here.] And so Bruce saw that, so he wasn’t really surprised. The information that came out told him what was coming.
Craig DiGregorio: But as far as how Bruce reacted, he started working out. Getting in shape.
Sam Raimi: Yes, you’re right!
Craig DiGregorio: He really did! [laughs]
Going from Burn Notice to—
Craig DiGregorio: He just looks like an action hero now. [looks over to Bruce Campbell at another table.] Look at that guy! He looks really good!
Early on in the writers’ room, there’s some jokes in the script about Ash being really overweight and looking rough, and Bruce came into the writers’ room and said, “F**k you guys! I’m gonna make you eat your words!” And he went and, well, he looks damn good. Started putting himself together.[turns to Raimi] I feel like we kind of turned his life around.
[laughs] The amount of misery you’re able to inflict on Bruce—have you sort of curtailed that in recent years because you don’t want him to break a hip or something? Or has it gotten worse?
Sam Raimi: We got to inflict a little pain on him in the pilot, and a little bit all through the series so far. And I’m kind of waiting to hear whenever the last show is, you know, depending how many seasons we go. God help Bruce for those last three episodes, because I’m taking all that’s left out of him!
Craig DiGregorio: [to Raimi] Is this how you kill your friend? [laughs]
Sam Raimi: I’ll make him wish he was dead! [laughs]